Hate Speech and Free Speech Belong at NDSU

opinion

The Constitution of the United States is, in my opinion, the greatest piece of legal legislation ever penned by mankind. The Founding Fathers outlined a set of “God-given rights” that every American citizen has the minute they are born into this world. It’s arguable which of these inalienable rights are the most important, with many claiming that the Second or Sixth Amendment is paramount of our rights.

But most people, including myself, consider the First Amendment the most crucial of the amendments. The First Amendment reads as follows:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Now most Americans are familiar with the rules outlined above. The government cannot force any American to follow a certain religion. The government cannot prohibit the press from writing and publishing what they want. The government cannot prohibit any Americans from peacefully assembling. The government cannot stop any American citizen from petitioning them. And finally, the one most people know, the government cannot restrict any American citizen’s speech.  

Recently in the United States, there’s been a grave misinterpretation of the First Amendment that many people have either knowingly or unknowingly subscribed to. I don’t want to sound like some sort of Doomsday prophet, but this mistake that so many people have made is a direct threat to our freedom to speak what we want when we want in the United States. And that mistake is the belief that hate speech is separate from free speech.

It might sound nice and even moral to restrict people from directing offensive or downright bigoted slurs and speech at marginalized groups of people in the United States. The idea that no one has to endure any type of verbal abuse sounds like a paradise to many, which is why they’ve fallen under the sway of the idea that such hateful speech is not protected under the First Amendment.

But what these people don’t realize (or refuse to realize) is that the hate speech is not mentioned anywhere within the Constitution. There is no section in the Bill of Rights that states that Americans have the freedom to speak up until it makes someone somewhere feel bad.

Banning something that is considered ‘hateful’ isn’t even logically possible considering how one’s feelings about spoken words and their meaning are subjective. Some people have thick skin and can appreciate offensive jokes, even if those jokes are directed at them. Others will become personally insulted the minute any semblance of a joke is made at their expense. 

If hate speech was to be made illegal, who would even get to determine what is and isn’t hateful? An overly-sensitive, thinned-skinned person is far more likely to interpret something as hateful or offensive than someone else.

So no, hate speech is not separate from free speech. Anyone, no matter how bigoted they may be, should be allowed to voice their ideas and opinions in America, especially at areas of learning such as NDSU.

It’s imperative that young Americans are exposed to differing viewpoints so that they can understand as many ideologies or belief systems possible. If we start banning whomever has controversial ideas from voicing those ideas, we cannot grow as people and strengthen our intellectual foundations.

Any person, whether they be a white nationalist or a full-blown Marxist, should be able to voice their ideas openly and safely in America and at NDSU.

 If you have a problem with someone saying something that personally offends you, tough luck. Get over it and move on with your day. Better yet, better yourself because of it. Don’t write letters to the university administrators or student government trying to ban someone just because you consider their ideas ‘hateful.’

Someone else might just have a differing viewpoint than you, as crazy as that may sound. Engage in debates and discussions, learn about different ideologies. Don’t bury your head in the sand and narrow your exposure only to those ideas that reassure your beliefs. As Americans, we have a duty to let every single one of our fellow citizens exercise their rights to the fullest.

Like the great writer George Orwell once said: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

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